Humanae Vitae: The problem, not the solution

pope-paul-vi-1Pope Paul VI is on the minds of many Catholics these days, and for good reason.

For one, his (conciliar) “canonization” is set to take place in October; for another, there are reports out of Rome indicating that the Bergolgian regime is plotting to “re-interpret” Humanae Vitae – a text that is widely considered the “crowning achievement” of the Montini pontificate.

Even certain so-called “traditionalist” media outlets are sounding alarms about the disastrous consequences of tinkering with Humanae Vitae; speaking of the text as if it is tantamount to holy writ.

As we will demonstrate here, however, the text should be condemned as Humanae Vitae has done virtually nothing but contribute to the very problems that it sought to forestall:

Marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards … forgetfulness of the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reducing her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of a man’s own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection … the passing of power on to public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law and who will favor, and even impose, those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective. (cf Humanae Vitae – 17)

With this in mind, here we will undertake a timely and somewhat lengthy (though still limited) examination of Humanae Vitae; one that will reveal not only the document’s grave deficiencies, but also the degree to which its author lacked authentic Catholic conviction; revealing himself to be a weak, wavering, and pitiable character indeed.

Right from the outset, the fundamental error upon which the entire document is based is suggested:

The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator.

Wrong. The transmission of human life (along with the education of children) is the primary end of marriage; not simply a most serious role among others.

Just sentences later, Paul VI states:

The fulfillment of this duty [the transmission of human life] has always posed problems to the conscience of married people, but the recent course of human society and the concomitant changes have provoked new questions. The Church cannot ignore these questions, for they concern matters intimately connected with the life and happiness of human beings.

First, notice that the wavering Paul VI now correctly identifies the transmission of human life as not just a role, but rather “a duty.”

Defenders of Montini often claim in the face of such things that he was a holy man, but simply soft-poken, timid and less-than-assertive.

NB: We are not discussing mere personality traits in this case; rather, we are considering the degree to which Paul VI upheld, or not, his primary duty of safeguarding the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine.

Already in our examination of Humanae Vitae, one is hard pressed to deny that Paul VI is very far from a model of heroic virtue.

Moving on, one should also take notice of his suggestion that the Church is motivated to address the so-called “new questions” at hand so that people can have happy lives!

Should not the motive have been for the glory of God and the salvation of souls?

Indeed, if it was, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

As we proceed with our examination, we will find that the focus of Paul VI, as with the Second Vatican Council itself, is almost entirely on man’s natural ends rather than his supernatural ends.

I would argue that a focus on the latter, however, is what provides the perspective necessary to assess the relative merits and deficiencies of one’s own generation in the full light of truth.

This missing from his view, one will not be surprised to find that Paul VI in Humanae Vitae (again, like the Council) cannot sing the praises of modern man enough – an over-glorification that leads him to falsely imagine that human society at the time that he wrote was utterly unique.

As for the “new questions,” as we shall see momentarily, these were settled long before Paul VI ever charged the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control to debate them.

Even so, he goes on:

The changes that have taken place are of considerable importance and varied in nature. In the first place there is the rapid increase in population which has made many fear that world population is going to grow faster than available resources, with the consequence that many families and developing countries would be faced with greater hardships.

A faithful Catholic (much more so a pope) should firmly dismiss the over-population myth out of hand, and for the simple reason that it accuses God of failing to provide the resources necessary for mankind to carry out the command to be fruitful and multiply.

And yet, Paul VI then states:

This can easily induce public authorities to be tempted to take even harsher measures to avert this danger.

By referring to overpopulation as “this danger,” Paul VI legitimized the myth.

There is also the fact that not only working and housing conditions but the greater demands made both in the economic and educational field pose a living situation in which it is frequently difficult these days to provide properly for a large family.

Notice the reference to “these days;” the clear implication being that it is uniquely difficult to provide for large families in our day (a falsehood), and further, that the signs of the times demand a re-examination of Christian doctrine.

Also noteworthy is a new understanding of the dignity of woman and her place in society, of the value of conjugal love in marriage and the relationship of conjugal acts to this love.

Nonsense. The Church (for whom Paul VI is speaking) did not come to any “new understanding” on these matters whatsoever. Rather, it is more accurate to say that society at large had recently come to a misunderstanding of the true dignity of woman.

“But the most remarkable development of all,” Paul VI states, is that man is “endeavoring to extend control … over the laws that regulate the transmission of life.”

This is hardly a “development;” rather, it is a clear act of rebellion against God that demanded a firm rebuke from the pope – no commission necessary.

He continues:

This new state of things gives rise to new questions. Granted the conditions of life today and taking into account the relevance of married love to the harmony and mutual fidelity of husband and wife, would it not be right to review the moral norms in force till now, especially when it is felt that these can be observed only with the gravest difficulty, sometimes only by heroic effort?

Once again, we find Paul VI legitimizing invalid arguments that deserve nothing more than a firm rebuke; namely, the claim that the Divine Law is uniquely difficult to follow in our day. (Recall the reason – a failure to view the present situation from a supernatural perspective.)

In these opening paragraphs of the text, Paul VI poses various questions concerning “acts which render natural processes infertile.” He writes as if such matters had yet to be adequately addressed by the Church.

In reality, the Church had already spoken very clearly on this topic. The fact that new pharmacological methods were being invented to circumvent conception in no way changed the “questions” at hand; much less the answers.

A further question is whether, because people are more conscious today of their responsibilities, the time has not come when the transmission of life should be regulated by their intelligence and will rather than through the specific rhythms of their own bodies.

Setting aside for the present discussion the matter of regulating births via “the specific rhythms of their own bodies,” the premise upon which the “further question” is based is patently false.

People in the 1960s were no more conscious of their responsibilities than previous generations; in fact, a solid case can be made for the exact opposite.

Paul VI, however, lacking the heroic virtue to recognize, much less proclaim, this truth, lent credence to the false claim and thus added fuel to the flames of a controversy that had no basis in fact to begin with.

He continued:

This kind of question requires from the teaching authority of the Church a new and deeper reflection on the principles of the moral teaching on marriage—a teaching which is based on the natural law as illuminated and enriched by divine Revelation.

At this, Paul VI shows his lack of Catholic conviction once more as he now admits that the entire matter concerns the principles of the moral teaching, the natural law, and divine Revelation.

This being so, was it really necessary to assemble a commission of “experts” – including five women who had no medical credentials – in order for the Magisterium to figure out how to apply her authority to the proliferation of oral contraceptives?

Of course not.

Pope Pius XI had left no room for debate some three decades earlier in Casti Connubii:

Since, therefore, certain persons, manifestly departing from Christian tradition handed down from the beginning without interruption, have recently decided that another doctrine should be preached on this method of acting, the Catholic Church, to whom God himself has entrusted the teaching and the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, placed in the midst of this ruination of morals, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the marriage contract immune from this base sin, and in token of her divine mission raises high her voice through Our mouth proclaims and again proclaims: Any use of the marriage act, in the exercise of which it is designedly deprived of its natural power of procreating life, infringes on the law of God and of nature, and those who have committed any such act are stained with the guilt of serious sin. (Casti Connubii – 56)

Paul VI went on to state:

In carrying out this mandate [to interpret the natural moral law], the Church has always issued appropriate documents on the nature of marriage, the correct use of conjugal rights, and the duties of spouses. These documents have been more copious in recent times.

The footnote to this sentence even cites Casti Connubii (among other magisterial texts)! In other words, he is well aware of the previously cited teaching, and yet finds cause to re-examine the questions is so plainly settled.

Moving on, speaking of the opinions expressed by members of the Commission, Paul VI writes:

Certain approaches and criteria for a solution to this question had emerged which were at variance with the moral doctrine on marriage constantly taught by the magisterium of the Church.

In this, one may imagine that even Paul VI had come to recognize that the matter was not up for debate, but rather, was infallibly taught even prior to the formation of the Commission by virtue of the Universal Ordinary Magisterium.

But did he really?

Bear in mind that it was Paul VI who signed-off on each of the conciliar documents; texts that presumed not only to question, but to contradict that which had been constantly taught by the magisterium of the Church.  

The point is this: Paul VI, like every pope that followed him, obviously did not accept the fact that such teachings are infallible and therefore not up for debate. Why not? Simply put, he was a dyed-in-the-wool modernist (which is precisely the qualification for conciliar “canonization”).

Several paragraphs later, the fundamental error previously noted surfaced yet again; this time a bit more plainly:

And since in the attempt to justify artificial methods of birth control many appeal to the demands of married love or of responsible parenthood, these two important realities of married life must be accurately defined and analyzed.

NB: In keeping with the Council – most notably Gaudium et Spes, which he will later cite specifically – Paul VI casts doubt on the ends of marriage; married love, first; parenthood, second.

He then tells us everything we need to know (Novus Ordo aside) about why he is being “canonized” as he states:

This is what We mean to do, with special reference to what the Second Vatican Council taught with the highest authority in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World of Today.

Folks, nothing was taught by the Council, in particular in Gaudium et Spes, with the “highest authority” that the Church wields in the name of Christ. And yet, Paul VI – as all of the popes that followed him – treated this bastard of a council, which had no intention to define or bind, as if it is the highest of all authorities indeed! Truly, it is their “New Pentecost” – the birth of a new church.

Just a few paragraphs further, the fundamental error is put in plain view:

As a consequence, husband and wife, through that mutual gift of themselves, which is specific and exclusive to them alone, develop that union of two persons in which they perfect one another, cooperating with God in the generation and rearing of new lives.

Thanks to this disordered view of the ends of marriage – mutual gift, union, perfecting one another, first; the generation of new lives, second – which forms the foundation of the text, not surprisingly, the remainder of the document is rife with tortured arguments; in spite of containing any number of truths.

This, of course, renders the document condemnable as a whole; a point lost on neo-conservative, and even some self-identified traditional, thinkers. (Recall the warning issued in Sacred Scripture about “a little leaven…”)

Later in the text, Paul VI expounds upon what he calls “responsible parenthood” – a loaded phrase if ever there was one – as it concerns “those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.”

As stated previously, the NFP debate (which one can examine more closely in a 2016 post from Fr. Anthony – along with spirited commentary from readers) is beyond the scope of the present article. Even so, I would like to point out the following:

Responsible parenthood, as we use the term here, has one further essential aspect of paramount importance. It concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter.

This is incorrect; the sacred Magisterium is the true interpreter of the objective moral order, while a “right conscience” is one that is formed according to said teaching authority.

At this, we arrive at the quotes most often cited in defense of Paul VI’s legacy vis-à-vis Humanae Vitae:

The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.

This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.

By now, I’m sure you know what’s coming next, but before I say it once more, note that Paul VI is not yet finished misleading the faithful:

The fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman …  And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved…

How many times must the ends of marriage be distorted in one text!

And now, what have we to show for all that Humanae Vitae has to offer?

More contraception – not less – and precisely the laundry list of problems that Paul VI (with the visionary prescience of a saint, according to some) associated with its proliferation.

You see, by so misleading the faithful into believing that the procreation and education of children has given way to “intimacy” and “unitive significance” as the primary end of marriage, this necessarily encouraged many (even if inadvertently) to take refuge in the false idea that avoiding pregnancy isn’t really such a big deal after all.

In fact, as the convoluted reasoning goes, if not  having children serves the supposedly primary end of marriage, well then surely it is a good in and of itself!

And this, my friends, is the crowning achievement of the soon to be “canonized” Paul VI.


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